The wild and extensive photographic career of Marilyn Stafford

Mrs. Stafford would later use what she learned – in particular the Stanislavski technique – to immerse herself in her subjects’ world and disappear completely. She moved to New York in 1947 with dreams of succeeding on Broadway.

It was at this time that she also began to experiment with cinema. Largely self-taught, her technique was deliberately random and she used the motto of Russian film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein: “shoot, shoot, shoot; cut cut cut.” She would often work on multiple rolls of film to focus on her subject and get “that one.”

Although much of her career was carved out of dogged determination, Ms. Stafford’s encounter with Einstein was memorable. In 1948, Ms Stafford, then 24, accompanied a film crew to research Einstein’s view of the atomic bomb after Hiroshima. On the drive from Manhattan to the physicist’s home in Princeton, she was handed a 35-millimeter camera and told she would be the “lady of the stills.”

The resulting portrait shows the physicist shriveled in spectral haziness – a hazy ghostly caused by the technical imprecision of a novice, but nonetheless possessing the unmistakable aesthetic that defines a Stafford photograph. After taking the photo, she no longer dreamed of a life in front of the camera, but rather behind it.

In 1949, after an apprenticeship with New York fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo, Ms. Stafford moved to Paris, where she would spend a decade. There, her love for photography deepened and she became friends with Edith Piaf, Eleanor Roosevelt, Noel Coward and Bing Crosby.

The writer Mulk Raj Anand, his good friend, introduced him to great names in photography such as Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson, who would become his mentors.


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